Part Western, part satire, part raunchy comedy, and completely bonkers, Blazing Saddle stands the test of time by being both hilarious and groundbreaking. The year is 1874, but also 1974. Cleavon Little leads as Bart, a black railroad worker turned sheriff in an all-white town by the scheming Hedley Lamarr, convinced the emergence of a black sheriff will surely drive the townspeople out, allowing him to build his railroad directly through it. From the get-go Blazing Saddles is crude, sharp, and smart amidst its inane characters.
Director Mel Brooks, who also plays a moronic, sex-crazed Governor, obliterates traditional racist Hollywood conventions, particularly that of the Western. He handles the crude dialogue and mind-bogglingly stupid characters with one goal in mind: laughter. Confronting stereotypes and racism through humor, he and his cast of actors throw everything at the wall, keeping the tone so light one can’t help but laugh at it. If one joke doesn’t hit, the next will. Actors squint, grimace, and fart their way through the film, adding such hilarious physical presence that the jokey dialogue is hardly even needed. Blazing Saddles deconstructs the Western, but is, knowingly, far too stupid to put it back together again.
One moment (pictured above) features the new sheriff escaping near-certain death at the hands of the angry white townspeople by holding himself hostage. Another sees Mel Brooks’ inimitable cross-eyed Governor accidentally grab Bart, instead of his intended confidant, around the shoulder and explain to him that the sheriff candidate is a nigger. Indeed, the entire film is actively politically incorrect, yet Brooks handles it all so absurdly, and deftly breaks the 4th wall throughout. Blazing Saddles calls out bigotry and traditional discrimination, and then invites everyone to just laugh at it in the best way possible. An old English professor of mine had this to say: “It is absolute insane nonsense. It also happens to be the greatest movie ever filmed.” They can’t make ’em like this anymore.